Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A lesser take on a major formula - 80%

androdion, February 14th, 2013

After the enormous breakthrough that was Mandylion, not only commercially but also in terms of the newfound identity of the band, it was expectable for The Gathering to proceed accordingly and release a new album that would build up on its predecessor. This eventually happened and so Nighttime Birds was released two years later, much to the glee of some and the disdain of others. This somewhat disrupting harmony that the new release caused could be seen in the light of it being yet another female fronted metal album, a new trend that was setting in and being considered as the new “cancer” of the hour by many. Be that as it may, I think that what truly made some heads nod was just how much of a disappointment the album is after Mandylion. In a way it has been seen as little more than a lesser sequel rather than a strong subsequent album. And I can agree for the most part with these critics, since I also find the album to be rather unidimensional and almost dumbed down when compared to the magnificent preceding effort.

Whereas on Mandylion most of it worked brilliantly because it was a pretty unheard of and exotic mix of an enormous array of elements, Nighttime Birds drops much of the solemn and introspective atmosphere in favour of a more lighthearted approach. A more rocking and guitar oriented display of much of the same tricks that made the album before it so great. But to be honest, if I compared Mandylion to Tiamat’s Wildhoney, making a parallelism between those two albums and how they bear a similar use of instrumentation and atmosphere, I can’t surely compare Nighttime Birds with A Deeper Kind Of Slumber. Granted the album takes indeed a step forward into becoming something else, but unlike on Tiamat’s case here it sounds more like a small deviation of a set course, rather than a complete departure from the earlier shores in favour of new routes. This is not to say that I dislike Nighttime Birds or find it a weak album for that matter, but it does sound like it could’ve gone farther than it actually did.

And it’s actually kind of strange to be complaining about this being a lesser take on the preceding album, when such a bombastic opener as “On Most Surfaces (Inuït)” hits me literally in the face. The initial riff that opens the song, laced by atmospheric keyboards and that acquainted drumming style is pretty awesome, as is Anneke’s sudden rampant entrance with the first vocal lines. Keyboards are now used slightly differently, in a way that they still guide the song onwards but the guitars are given a more important role and shown at the forefront, whereas the drums serve now as that extra rhythmic layer. The build-up that explodes by the fourth minute is completely endearing, and the impressively sexy vocal lines seduce you into slowly waving your head back and forth to the rocking rhythm until the song ends. But the album slows down almost immediately with “Confusion”, a mid-paced ballad that again leaves the drum/keyboard interplay behind in favour of a guitar/bass driven song. This tendency revealed on the first couple of songs reappears constantly, or better said it’s now the common practice as pointed out above. There’s a larger emphasis on string arrangements and riff driven music than on rhythmic dynamics and foreplay with silent instrumental breaks, and in a way it can be said that Nighttime Birds is actually the closest the band has ever been to gothic metal.

The album is still very beautiful in its display on almost pop/rock nuances, although ridden with a metal coating to avert being completely outside of the closet. But even here the band already started showing an appetence for another coming change in their sonic palette. “The May Song” is practically a radio-friendly single, I simply can’t describe it any other way, although there are indeed a few heavier songs that will grab you by the collar and demand your full attention. “The Earth Is My Witness” is such a case, and like the opening song it draws you in with an immense palm muted riff that keeps being repeated at every turn of the verse-chorus structure. The bass is beautifully woven into the more gentle passages, as is, again and always, Anneke’s vocal delivery, especially in that pre-chorus high tone she puts out. The keyboard arrangements are again vibrant in colour, and the whole album reeks of an imagery of the centre piece on the cover art, a frosty landscape that still presents a glimmer of hope in the form of its living tree. But this has all been done before, and dare I say better, on Mandylion. Most of the album just follows the trend set, a mutual exchange between the busier more upbeat songs and the softer more atmospheric pieces that bring little doom to the table.

Even the structuring of the album and the order in which the songs were placed makes this further stand out. After the softer atmospheric piece “New Moon, Different Day”, another rocking and upbeat song is presented in the masterful “Third Chance”, which has this very distinctive drumming style that is disparate from the rest of the album. Its interaction between snare and cymbals, mainly during the chorus section, is pretty off-kilter and even brings to mind some of the more psychedelic bands of the seventies. And what do you know?! The following song is again a subdued piece of warm atmosphere, waltzing around the vocal abilities of the leading lady, and working its way through soft guitars and harsher crescendos towards the choruses. Remember when I said above that the album feels way too unidimensional? Upbeat song, atmospheric song, poppy song, rinse and repeat and there you have it. Maybe I’m being overly critic since I find myself enjoying the album each and every time I play it, and even the vocally driven songs are amazingly conceived and executed to my ears. But I can’t seem to feel a bit disappointed after the level of greatness that Mandylion had set before.

Even though this review reads as an open criticism to the album in question, I have to restate what I’ve said, I like it a lot. When I’m searching for that escapade into a romantic land of warmth and incense this is where I go to. And the smell of incense does take me high, just not as much as I’d like to. Still, this isn’t your verbatim copy of Mandylion as I’ve pointed out above, and not only the use of the instruments is contrasting but its mood is also on a completely different plane. I have to say that this is still a recommendable effort, just not much of a demanding album, and neither close to what the band has been best capable of presenting us with during the Anneke era. They did better before and would do so again in the future, albeit in an entirely different context. Nighttime Birds is just a piece of romance and a scented candle over a fiery place, one that helps you share a moment of affection better than anything else. And don’t worry about your street cred, we all need a bit of love in our lives.